Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Princess and Princesses in His kingdom

     I shared with those present at the two services this weekend some of the incongruities regarding the commentators' thoughts regarding our passage from Matthew's Gospel lesson. The schools of thought tended to be either very joyful or very critical. There were very few commentaries, given the time that parish priests have to do reading, that written that were ambivalent about the passage. On the one hand, one set of commentators seemed to rejoice that good works were necessary to be judged a sheep rather than a goat. The is no requirement of faith. There is no need for "church trappings." In fact, some commentators wondered whether the disciples, apostles, and early church simply misunderstood Jesus when they declared Him the Son of God. To love God is to simply love others. Church is superfluous. Faith is unnecessary.  

     Another group of commentators seemed to relish either for or against the idea that we are saved by what we do. Those that argue in favor of works righteousness hear Jesus' command to visit the sick and imprisoned, to feed the hungry, and to clothe the poor as the requirement of faith. Of course, those who seem a bit overly sensitive to ideas of works righteousness argue vehemently against such understandings.  St. Paul and others throughout the history of the Church remind us that faith without works is worthless.  So, good works are good and important, but they only point the way toward the One walked the road to Calvary.  They do not ensure that you ad I will be judged any better than the unbelievers.

     What a number of commentators seem to miss about this passage, however, is the pre-requisite for both these wonderful works and that love of others. At the center of Jesus' message this week is the reminder that a right relationship with Him should be first and foremost in our lives. How can such be true? Think of the judgment scene which He describes. Where are the witnesses? Where are the lawyers? Only the judge is there. Only the Son of Man and each individual are present when this judgment scene takes place. And the judge looks at everyone before Him and makes an infalliable judgment. This person is a sheep; this person is a goat. The testimony of each individual's life points them towards His left hand or His right hand. There is no need for witnesses; there is no need to even speak. The heart is lived out in one's life.

     How is such a thing possible? Consider Jesus' teaching. The righteous are called sheep and set off to the side that will experience the blessings of God for all eternity. Such a person recognizes that God has come among us, lived with us, died for us, and has promised to raise us. Such a person discovers that love of God necessarily leads to love of neighbor. Everyone whom we encounter in life, every single person with whom we come into contact, has been created in His image. How we treat them, how we love them reflects how we love Him. When we allow our brothers and sisters to languish in poverty, to languish in hopelessness, to be forgotten, we are allowing ourselves to forget God. Worse, when we ignore people in that condition, we forget the condition our Lord assumed when He took on human form. Though He could have come among us as a king, with attendant wealth and glory, He chose, instead, to come among us as the son of a carpenter in a hick town in a backwater province. Though He could have chosen to mingle only with the powerful, He chose, instead, to eat with and teach prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the poor, cripples, possessed, and ceremoniously unclean. He came as one of our least and served among our least to remind us that in God's kingdom there is no least! All are loved by God. All have been imprinted, like that denarius which He had to borrow for illustrative purposes, with the image of our Creator. And how we respond to His love is best demonstrated by how we respond to His images in our midst. But, until we know Him, we cannot see Him in the face of others. Until we know Him for who He is, we cannot serve Him with intention. He may well wash our feet, but He does so beneath our notice. He may well die for our sins on a cross, but we miss His offering in the hustle and bustle of our lives.

     Similarly, if we reject Him, if we accept the argument that He is not the unique Son of God, all our works do us no good. The goats in the narrative ask of Jesus when they did not serve Him? Usually, we take that question to be rhetorical in nature as if the speakers are saying, "We would have served You, but we did not see You." and so we believe that the goats did no service. Nowhere, however, is such an understanding necessarily implied. Just like those who "prophesied in His name," "taught in His name," and "healed in His name" and were condemned to remain outside the feast, these goats may be doing some works. They are simply serving themselves rather than their Lord when they do them. They, perhaps, imagine some scale of justice where their efforts determine that they were god and worthy of salvation.  Such efforts are simply futile. We cannot serve ourselves and expect to save ourselves. Either way, whether we have rejected Him or have attempted to "earn" His grace, those of us that are goats are doomed.

     Loving our neighbors, loving strangers can be costly. There can be a strain placed upon budgets, upon time, upon relationships, and upon abilities. Sometimes, the service of others can seem outright impossible. There is so much need; we are so inadequate to the task at hand. Yet it is that relationship with Jesus which gives us the power to conquer all things in His name! If we believe He is who He says He is and if we accept Him as Lord over all our life, He can accomplish anything through us, if we are simply willing to serve. And such faithful service itself serves a purpose. How we serve, how we love may be the best sermon that another of the peoples ever hears or sees.

     For the past few weeks, we have been looking at a number of parables and examining what it means to live a life worthy of His disciple and to live in expectation of our Lord's return. What does the prepared life look like? In this last of those teachings and, in fact of this church year, we are reminded of our callings as people who live between the advents of Christ's coming. He has identified Himself for us among the poor and the forgotten, and He as instructed us to care for one another as He Himself first cared for us. This teaching, brothers and sisters, reminds us of the costly love He bore for each of us. To be His princes and to be His princesses means that we must die to selves, rise with Him, and serve others as He has himself done. There is no other calling like it in this world! There is no love like it anywhere else to be found! And there is no future to be found in anyone or any place but Him!

     And such a faith, such a life is easily demonstrable in our midst.  Such a believer takes home the underwear of the homeless and hobos and washes them because "no one should ever be forced always to wear dirty underwear."  Such a group of believers, when budgets are tight and when income seems to be down, recognizes the need in those around them and commits their finances to some relief, expecting, believing that He who owns everything will provide for His people and ministries in His name.  Such a faith, such a life finds itself on its knees in prayers, not hoping, but certain that God is active in the world today and looking for those faithful intercessors who will simply ask Him to act in the beloved name of His Son.  Such a faith, such a life trusts that all its ministries are God's and that He will make sure that they accomplish His purposes.

     This week we celebrated the end of the church year and Christ the King Sunday.  We reminded ourselves that we serve the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Better still, we reminded ourselves that He calls us each to be princes and princesses in His eternal kingdom.  But we also reminded ourselves of the cost of His kingship.  To save His people, to tend His flock, He walked the road that led to calvary.  When He calls us, when He places on our hearts a particular ministry, how can we ever say "no" to such a king.  If He was willing to die for us and if He has the power to redeem all things in our lives, even death, why would we ever want to say "no"?


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You and I can be far from ordinary . . . in Christ!

     Far too often, as I shared this weekend, parishioners and people like to think that they are too "ordinary" to do any real ministry for God. I am often told that "my contributions really don't make that big of a difference." The thought is that others have more of whatever it is we think we need to be successful in His service. Others have more money to give. Others have more time to give. Others have talents that are far more germane to the needs of St. Alban's and its ministries. Nothing could be further from the truth! God always equips those whom He calls. How do we know this? Think on our parable of the talents this weekend in Matthew's Gospel.

     In the story, the slaves are given talents. The amount of money tied up in a talent was extraordinary. One of the commentators that I read this past week claimed that a talent of gold was worth more than 650,000 bushels of grain in the Ancient Near East. That is an example which might fall on deaf ears in the big cities back East or on the West Coast, but we in the Midwest know what a bushel is. Imagine, you have been placed in charge of a sum of money equal to 650,000 bushels! And in Matthew's story, one slave received 5 talents, one slave received 2 talents, and the other slave received "just" 1 talent. Jesus' parable contained an unimaginable sum. Few in His audience would ever earn a single talent over the course of their life's labors, and the master was giving the one with the least ability a talent. What an amazing fairy tale!

     The master returns and asks for an accounting. The first slave made 5 talents with the 5 he had been entrusted, and the second slave made 2 with the 2 he had been entrusted. Both are praised by the master. "You have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master." One has made the master the equivalent of 3,250,000 bushels of grain worth of wealth; the other has made the master merely 1,300,000 bushels worth of wealth. Yet the master's praise of both is equal. Where we might expect the master to be more pleased with the first slave, the master praises them both equally. Better still, the master considers this unimaginable wealth to be "a few things." Jesus' audience hears about unimaginable amounts of wealth, and the master promises now to place his trustworthy slaves in charge of "many things." How much wealth does this master have?

     Unfortunately, not everyone earns the praise of the master. The one slave, who likely represents the priests and Pharisees, takes the one talent and buries it. He does absolutely nothing with it. In fact, in hiding it rather than simply investing it in the bank, he does not even earn normal interest on the money. The Pharisees and priests have been placed in charge of God's flock, and how have they behaved? They have chosen, in most instances, to be unfaithful stewards. They have not called the people back into right relationship with God. They have not behaved as they have been instructed. Rather than serving the people as God calls His leaders to do, they have acted as if they are the ones entitled to the service of others. In this parable, Jesus once again reminds them that there will be an accounting at the end. The faithful servants will enter into the joy of the master; the unfaithful servants are considered worthless and thrown into the outer darkness. The future for the unfaithful is certainly bleak.

     Naturally, God's mercy is ever evident. Jesus speaks in parables to that those who can hear, hear, and so that those who refuse to hear, do not. If we judge ourselves counted among the unfaithful, there is still time to repent. All we need to do is ask for His forgiveness and the His grace to become faithful stewards of all that He gives us. But what of our initial question? Is it possible to be ordinary in God's economy? Is it possible that we cannot accomplish amazing things in service to the true Master?

     I was reminded this week by an observer of our parish how we seemingly live this parable constantly. Last week's Community Meal was only the most recent example. Some of our members have been gifted with some financial resources but not a lot of time or ability. They chose to give money to purchase some of the food. Others among us were more than willing to cook, but they lacked the resources to purchase a quantity of food sufficient to feed so many people. So, we were able to buy the food using the money from the first group so that the second group would be able to cook. Naturally, we needed people to serve the food. Some may not have had the money nor the time to cook the food, but they had the time to serve the homeless, the hobos, and the other "forgottens" in our society a wonderful meal. So they showed up to serve. Who was more faithful? Which group was more important in God's economy?  Each, even those who had a hand in funding, cooking, and serving, was faithful to their Master's call. Those with resources gave of their money, those with ability cooked, and those with time served. Each was faithful in a little thing, yet look at the result. As many of the servers remarked during and after the services yesterday, the recipients were thrilled with our feast. Many have had their fill of soup and bread for sustenance. Yet, through the faithfulness of Christ's servants here at St. Alban's, a feast of ham, beans, potatoes, pies, and other "essentials" was provided. For thirty minutes on a Wednesday evening in Davenport, Iowa of all places, abundance showed forth in poverty, light broke the darkness! Such is the work and offering of Christ's body to which you and I are called.

     Better still, it is not only confined to our church or to our country. Much was made last week of our May bike ride entitled "Waters of Hope." Parishes from all over the diocese gave as they were able. Some parishes were able only to provide prayers to keep the riders safe and alive, other parishes were able only to give financially, still other parishes were able to offer only their hospitality, and other parishes were able to do a bit or all of these. Yet, without the faithful ministries of each of these parishes in our diocese, the ride would have failed. Had Grace Albia, St. Paul's Creston, St. Thomas Sioux City, St. Paul's Indian Mission, St. John's Mason City, or St. John's Dubuque not agreed to host and feed us, where would we have ever been as nourished and welcomed as we were? Had not Trinity Cathedral offered its van for our use, how would we have ever been able to transport people and supplies around this diocese?  Had countless individuals not offered their financial gifts, medical gifts, or their local knowledge of "biker-friendly" roads, how would this effort have ever been accomplished, and accomplished in safe conditions? Had not a dozen or so individuals not have been willing to travel to Swaziland, how would the villagers where the purificators have been placed ever learn how to operate them? Without the ongoing work of the leadership of the Diocese of Swaziland, would we ever have known where to place those purificators? And because of all that faithful effort, 60 water purificators and 40 solar panels were placed in villages around Swaziland. Not a single one was broken by the airlines or custom agents during transport! Now, as many as 60 towns the size of Durant have clean water! If that does not preach, encourage and exhort, what will?

     Simply put, God has no ordinary servants! God has no ordinary sons and no ordinary daughters. He has equipped each of us for the ministries to which He has called us. They might seem insignificant to us, but to God they are priceless. Better still, as we live as faithful stewards of those gifts He has given us, He promises to place us in charge of "many things." Of what has He given to you that He now asks you to use in His name? To whom has He called you to demonstrate His boundless love, His eternal bounty, and His awesome power? Pray for the grace to accomplish His will in all our lives. Pray that we each hear Him say to each one of us "well done, good and trustworthy slave . . . I will place you in charge of many things. . . Enter into the joy of your master."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Shack

     At the urging of my father-in-law, my father's pastor, and two of my closest friends from seminary, I finally sat down last week and read The Shack.  I suppose, had I read Eugene Peterson's comments, I would have gotten to this book in my reading stack far much sooner.  Could it really be as good as Pilgrims' Progress?  I find him to be among the best pastoral theologians currently writing, so I had to find out.

     I will not give the story away, but as a pastor who deals far too often with the question of "Where is God in this suffering?," I must confess that I found the book to be a God-send.  The story and theology is easily written, and it is open to anyone who has had to question the presence or existence of God in any unjust suffering situation.  As I dealt this morning with a lady whose mother is dying (likely today), I heard Papa's and Jesus' words far too clearly and, I hope and pray, I was a better pastor for hearing them.  

     The book hit home especially hard for me as I know far too many Mac's in my life.  I desperately wish this book had been around when my small group in seminary dealt with the deaths of Samuel and Josiah, the firstborn sons of Bryan† & Lisa and Scott† & Sarah respectively.  By God's grace, we did ok, but such an understanding would have only enabled us all to be better pastors  in those tragedies.  We loved and still love one another, and that made a huge difference, but some knowledge might have made those tragedies a bit easier to accept and understand.  By the time I met Tone the truck driver, I was far too familiar with the the grief and the redemptive possibilities, but such a book would have been great to give to Tone.  And, well, the grief unfortunately has reared its ugly head in a few other situations since Tone.

     Is the book's theology perfect according to Brian†?  No.  But then again, Brian† is by no means the perfect theologian.  I do think that the spiritual wedgies doled out by the author are well considered and very appropriate.  Papa might not live up to one's understanding of our Father in heaven, but I could certainly seeing Him revealing Himself in that way just to tweak us a bit when we become too sure of ourselves.  And Jesus is not a blue-eyed, fair-skinned and of Norwegian stock?!  Somebody better edit this book quick!  -- lol.  

     Is this book worth your time and prayerful reflection?  Only if you or someone you love questions the presence of God in seemingly unjust suffering . . .

     Enjoy!  And bring a couple tissues . . . www.theshackbook.com


Spiritual Wedgies and feasts

     This was one of those weeks when I was unsure which sermon to use, so I found myself using both. If 8 o'clocker's and 10:15er's compare notes, they might discover that the sermons were a good bit different. At 8 o'clock, I challenged those present with the question of what oil is in their lamps. If they were trying to fan their own flame with their own oil, they were like the foolish maidens in our story from Matthew this week. At the second service, I looked more at the theme that history has a point. We often act like apes on a treadmill. We sometimes fall into the trap that our daily lives are ordinary. Yet God reminds us that He created and that there will be an end. None of our lives are ordinary! Probably, I will try to reconstitute both on my blog this week, as the e-mails and calls have already begun on both sermons, and some from each service saying the other seemed more like what they needed to hear. As we are preparing to enter Advent and are looking at Matthew's teachings on the return of Jesus, it might be a good thing for us to look at what Jesus is saying about His return.

     In our reading from Matthew 25 this week, Jesus tells us the parable of the Ten Virgins. Most of us see the meaning behind the parable. The virgins are the Christians, the bridegroom is Christ, the lamp is the light of Christ in us, and the feast is the great wedding banquet to which God has called all of us. What might not be apparent are the spiritual wedgies which are doled out in the readings. Among them are the ten virgins, the problem of the oil, and the fact that the door to the feast is eventually closed. How are they spiritual wedgies?

     Consider the virgins. What distinguishes them from one another? Jesus does not describe some as pretty and others as ugly. He does not say she was wealthy and she was poor. All are deemed to look alike, at least with respect to appearances. All seem to be pure, at least from appearance. What separates them is their wisdom or foolishness. What should shock us is when we apply this to our lives. We in the church may look alike. We may come to church once or twice a week. We may tell people we are members of a church. We may even participate in some of the ministry and outreach of the church. Yet, some among us are wise and some are foolish, and the foolish ones will be excluded from the feast! Some among us, maybe even some reading this message will be excluded from His feast. Going to church and appearing to be a Christian does not mean that we get into the feast. What does?

     Our oil is the simple answer to that question. In whom or in what are we trusting? If our oil of provision is the god of money, we are foolish. If our oil is the god of pleasure or what feels good, we will not get in. Even if oil is our own efforts and labor to be "good people," Jesus is warning us that we will be excluded from His great banquet. What separates the wise from the foolish? The wise realizes Who it is that provides the oil. Jesus has died and been raised from the dead so that each of us can die to self and be raised to new life in Him. In other places, Jesus will remind us not to place our light under a bushel basket; He will remind us that we cannot have life apart from Him. So, the second wedgie of our parable should have us thinking about who or what provides our oil. If we think that we are getting an invitation because we are "good people" because we try to earn our invitation by serving at Angel Food Ministries, or at Community Meal, or by giving copious amounts of money to St. Alban's, or in any way other than through our faith in Christ Jesus, we are likely to be as disappointed as those virgins who were not admitted after the feast had begun in Jesus' story.

     The final spiritual wedgie ought to be the fact that the time eventually runs out. So often, we think of God as a merciful God, and rightly so. We sometimes plead with God like St. Augustine and ask Him to save, just not to do it until we are done having fun. We tend to think that we can put off telling a friend, a loved one, a co-worker, or someone else about Jesus because we have plenty of time. "There is always tomorrow." Yet, we forget that God's mercy, just like life, has an end. At some point in the future, there will be no "tomorrow." Eventually, at some point which may well surprise us, our lives will come to an end. We may be fortunate to see our death approach and to be able to make our decision. At other times, however, death may come suddenly. Jesus' return will be like that. Eventually, at some unknown time in the future, He will come again to judge the living and the dead. Those judged as wise will be called to the feast; those judged as foolish will be left outside the feast. All will have had the same invitation. All will have had access to the same oil. Some will have accepted; some will have rejected the invitation and the oil. And, there will be consequences to that decision to accept His invitation or to reject or put off His invitation, eternal consequences.

     I have remarked a number of times over the past few years how spiritual wedgies are God's way of making us uncomfortable. Just when we think we can afford to be complacent and near the end of our race, He grabs us by the back of our spiritual underwear and gives us a tug or a pull. We find ourselves squirming at what we have discovered about ourselves. The wonderful thing about God's wedgies is that they are corrective, not humiliating. Unlike our school friends who may have given us wedgies to tease us, God tugs on us that we might remember our real focus, our real calling. And the Gospel news is that He is there to tug over and over until this world ends. What if, in considering this reading or yesterday's sermons you find yourself more allied with the foolish virgins? Is it too late? If you are reading this or Matthew's story, mercifully there is still time. All He asks is that you repent, die to self, and let His oil light your lamp and so draw others to Him. It really is that easy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

God's ordinary is extraordinary!

     For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you -- Jesus' words at the end of the beatitudes ought to both flatter and scare us. The words should flatter us because Jesus is lumping His people in with the prophets. Yet, when we get over the initial excitement of being included in such an austere and profound group, we should probably be a little frightened. Think of the suffering of His prophets. We recently finished the narrative of Moses in the RCL. We know others were imprisoned, hounded, kept in cisterns, and reviled. Who wants a part of that? Further, how can someone consider themselves truly blessed (made happy by God) when they are suffering such injustices? I suppose I should back up a moment and comment on the Beatitudes themselves.
     Among other things, the Beatitudes teach us about the ethics of God's people. We are called to humility, to mourning, to be reconcilers and to faithfulness to our Lord. In each description, Jesus says that those who practice the ethic He commands will be made joyful by God. It seems a bit counter-intuitive. How can a mourner be made joyful? How can a peacemaker be made joyful when neither disputing party can agree on anything? How can the scales of justice ever equal out for one who is merciful? The truth is that, of our own doing, no joy is possible. Jesus uses the word blessed to remind us that the joy is a gift of God. So, are we looking to some distant joy?
     In one sense, we are looking to a final joy. When Jesus comes and remakes the world after His last judgment, His people will no doubt be blessed. But Jesus seems a little more focused on the here and now. How can you and I and all who claim to be His people ever claim to be blessed in the face of life's tragedies? The answer is profound and, yet, simple. We serve a redeeming God! Only such a God, who can redeem even death, can allows us to stand at a grave, make our alleluias, and look to the future where we can be with our departed loved ones in full communion with our Lord and Savior who made it all possible. Only such a God, who has bestowed upon His people undeserved, unmerited grace, can serve as a spring of joy in life's vicissitudes. Only such a God, who first showed each one of us mercy, can inspire us to find joy in sharing that same mercy with those who have wronged us. Jesus' list goes on and on. God has demonstrated those very aspects, those very behaviors to us. When we earned His wrath, when we earned His punishment, He showed us His grace and His mercy. Better still, He has called each of us into a relationship which empowers us to do the same for others in His Name!
     So, how can we be happy in the face our own particular problems? We can be happy by reminding ourselves who it is that calls us into relationship with Him. We can remind ourselves that, though we might be sorry what our sins cost Him; He happily paid the price for each one of us to break us from our prisons and separation from Him. We can be happy, though we do not deserve such accolades, He has chosen to name us among His prophets and send us into the world to do His ministry.
     Appropriately, this is our reading for All Saints' Day. You and I on this special day are called to remember the work He has done for us, the work He has for us to do, and the loving audacity and joy of His charge. He has called you and me to be His prophet! Despite knowing our deepest darkest secrets and sins, He has chosen to work through every one of us who submits to Him and accepts His offer of mercy. God has chosen to work through the ordinary, and what an amazing choice that is! You and I might argue that we are not worthy of such responsibility and accolade in His kingdom; yet that is precisely His reward and His promise. Think back in your life. Who led you to Jesus? Was it a magnificent prophet such as Moses or Elijah? Or was it a parent? A Sunday school teacher? A co-worker? A friend? A pastor? Were any of them extraordinary? Or were they approachable people with a joy you needed to discover? The fact is that in our ordinariness we are called by our Lord to show forth joy, joy that comes from knowing that He has redeemed us all.
     This past weekend, we sang "I sing a song of the saints of God." It is a joyful song which reminds us of all the saints in our lives and in the world around us. It ends with the words "and there's not any reason, not in the least, why I shouldn't be one too!" Where in your life is He calling you to be a prophet and a saint? Whom has He given to you to shepherd into His kingdom? Where are the fields the Master has planted you to work? Be thankful He has called you, and live the life to which He has called you. Who knows? In the All Saints' Days ahead, maybe someone will remember you when they sing that song of the saints of God because you will have been the prophet in their life who called them into relationship with their Lord.


Monday, November 3, 2008

I sing a song of the saints of God . . .

     I did a dangerous thing this weekend during the sermon: I praised my parishioners. I say it is dangerous because, inevitably, someone usually feels wrongly ignored and sometimes people begin to relaxing thinking they have “done it.” But, I also think it needed to be done. Given the resulting pindrop silence and tears and discussion, I know it was a sermon that came from God. Part of my decision to preach about the saints at St. Alban’s Davenport revolved around their care of me and my family the past couple months. Some have allowed me to vent and worry over my son who broke his jaw and knocked out his teeth; all have tried hard to minister to my wife and the kids during this event. Add to that the recent celebration of new ministry and the outpouring of love and sarcasm which so defines these Godly people. Then, there was clergy appreciation month, and the last Sunday of October. I received a couple cards every week during the month, and they gave us a cake which even my horde could not consume in a couple of days. Thank you’s seemed too shallow and too personal. Of course, like any parish anywhere in the United States, we are dealing with the uncertainties of the current economic malaise. John Deere, Sears Manufactring, Hahn Industries and Alcoa may well be forced to cut back. Some are dealing with diseases. Many have relationship issues. Not a few think they are unloveable. And our reading this week was Matthew 5 in honor of All Saints’ Day.

     So I told stories. I had a number of them from which to choose in only the last couple weeks. St. Vern had entertained anonymous young girl who had been sent home for school for dressing too “devilishly,” whatever that means. It certainly was not bad enough no to invite her into the church. As God would have it, the young girl was the daughter of one of St. Vern’s former students. More than two decades ago, St. Vern had planted a seed that God would only now let him see flourish a bit. The former student called. She knew that the “Mean old Mr. M” to whom the priest had referred was her former English teacher. She called, thanked him for his work with her, and shared her story. She is dying of a bad heart. In fact, she should have died last month. But she wants to see the daughter graduate in the spring. And she worries about her daughter. As it turns out, the daughter will likely lose a mother to a bad heart and an aunt to cancer all before she ever graduates high school. But, the mother rejoiced that she could regale the daughter with stories from school. Better still, the daughter knows there is someplace she can go when she wants to rail at God in her eventual frustration and anger.

     I could have talkd of St. Sue. She asked a boy in World of Warcraft if she could add his father to our prayers. The son agreed thinking there is no way in the world she would do it, let alone make sure her priest knew what was happening. After some recent events, there was some worry about the safety of the father. As God would have it, I was online when the events surfaced. I knew his frustration and that of his family. And still, a few days later, all he can say is “I can’t believe she really did it and you guys paid attention.” He even thanked me for helping him understand what his family members were experiencing. For a few moments, he was able to act like an adult in the face of some horrible emotions, and it was noticed by those whom he loves most. And, as he said this weekend, it turns out his dad is just fine.

     I could have talked of St. George. St. George is a retired military officer employed at the Arsenal. A couple of times over the past year, he has shared with me some of the psychological challenges facing our veterans. One change in the way we conduct warfare is that we no longer ship them overseas via long boatrides. Soldiers have literally been in Davenport and Baghdad within 72 hours of each other. The problem with the quick transportation is that our soldiers get no time to debrief and de-stress. In prior wars, the men could share with each other what they saw. Now, they are thrown back into society without so much as a “by your leave.” To be sure, the military doctors do the best that they can, but we are left to help families pick up their lives. Had it not been for St. George and his passion, I would have never been able to help another WOW friend. You see, his wife had recently returned from service to her country. And they were experiencing the normal problems of readjustment. Dad and the kids had gone on with life while she fought. Dad and the kids made do without her. She returned to find that they all had changed and that she had as well. Part of their problem was that she needed to talk. Men might be reticent to talk, but women sometimes need to express everything they are feeling. Were it not for St. George, that family might have been split up. At least, thanks to his insights and a nosy priest, they are getting some help. And everyone knows why they are acting the way that they do.

     I could have spoken of St. Larry. St. Larry has struggled mightily in some aspects of his life. His workers have not behaved well. Alleged drunk drivers have acted in a way to endanger his livelihood. Yet, through it all, St. Larry has sought Jesus. How would Jesus handle _______? And when he cannot think of an answwer, he calls his priest. You might think it gets old, and 5:30am phone calls are not my favorite things, but it is amazing to see somebody trying to live his life displaying the mercy he knows he has been shown by God.

     I could have spoken of St. Charlie, again. Together with his wife, St. Sherry, and his mother, St. Mary, the three of them are making a tremendous impact in the life of a neighbor. She lacks the resources to feed her family, so they use their resources to feed them. All three of them get to experience the thankfulness which comes from serving someone who desperately needs it.

     I could have spoken of St. Mac and St. Maxine (her Christian name is Jackie, but Maxine seems to suit her more). The two of them have enabled us to teach a number of people in our midst to fish.

     I could have talked about St. Bev and St. Linda, who show up to weed the prayer garden.

     I could have spoken of St. Ron or St. Jeff, who selflessly volunteer their time (in the case of St. Ron it was more than 2 decades of time) mowing the yard.

     I could have spoken of St. Wanda or St. Linda, who seemingly never tire of cleaning up the messes of others.

     I could have spoken about St. Robin or St. Julie, whose senses of humor and sarcastic wit sometimes leave a pastor nearly breathless from bellylaughs.

     I could have talked about St. Jane, who sees God most often in the sacraments of this low church setting.

     I could have talked of St. Jack, who, as any long-suffering Cubs fan here in the Midwest, embodies the patience of Job and lost causes of Jude.

     I could have spoken how St. Jan, St. Robin, St. Polly, St. Marylea, St. Ellamae and the rest of the Intercessors have taught me much about prayer and patience before His throne. Like me, they chafe from time to time, but they recognize the importance of bringing everything to God in prayer.

     I could have talked at length about St, Nicole who, in one day, was forced to deal with some Christians who doubted her salvation, a child who thought she celebrated the “Devil’s birthday” with a bit too much verve, and herded those real devils in her choir all in one day! And still, she prayerfully selects the music each week and sets the tone for our worship.

     I could have spoken of St. Jennifer, St, Judy, or St. Julie who faithfully serve the hungry in our midst and in our community at the end of our line each month for AFM.

     I could have spoken of St. Thelma, who, in many ways, set the spiritual tone for this parish and for St. Gay, who nobly took Thelma’s torch and started the next leg of the relay.

     I could have spoken of St. Michelle, who labored faithfully on behalf of our ECW and our youth these past few months.

     I could have talked of St. Connie who dutifully humors her husband in the wilds of WI and returns to fill in wherever needed in what ever ministry upon her return.

     I could have spoken of St. Michelle, together with St. Mitchel and St. Melanie, who taught us all a bit about unjust suffering this past year.

     I could have spoken of St. Barb, who simply goes where God calls her, no matter how stupid it might seem to her when she stops to consider it.

     I could have spoken of St. Karen, who tolerates, sometimes amusingly and sometimes agonizingly, the rantings and musings of her husband.

     I could have talked of St. Fred, who tries to meet any need of which he is made aware.

     I could have gone on and on. The saints in my church try hard to do as their Lord commanded loving Him with everything and loving their neighbor as themselves. A full three dozen have jumped at the opportunity to feed the hungry through AFM. Through their generosity, a number of them have enabled us to help those on food stamps in our area strethch their budgets and learn “to fish.” And their smiles and faithfulness have not gone unnoticed by those being served!

     A number of the saints at St. Alban’s contribute their change to help buy bus passes for the women at Winnie’s Place. Though they will likely never meet any of these battered women, the continue to pray and support them as they have ability. It may be coats, toys, books, food, soap, or any other item we take for granted (like loose change) that someone always thinks of for the ladies and children at Winnie’s.

     The saints at St. Alban’s also know how to put on a feast and remind the forgotten of society that we are all invited to a party the likes of which this world will never see! Those in charge of the Community Meal do their best to plan a menu. The cooks step up to make the meal each month. And the servers show up with smiles to remind the homeless that they, too, have been formed in the image of God. And all labor so that the priest can simply mingle and chat with whoever wants to talk. You and I might take fried chicken, or meatloaf, or fluff, or any number of everyday ordinary meals for granted, but those whom these saints serve are reminded by these feasts of loving mothers or grandmothers and are, for just a few minutes a month, comforted in their distress and hunger.

     Best of all, these saints mentioned and others who are not, live in the world. We deal with broken relationships, with addictions, with worries, with cares, with hurts, with angers, and with all of life’s vicissitudes. In the midst of the lives of these servants are some agonizing pains. But, better still, there are amazing evidences of God’s grace. Sure, we have our fights. Sure, we don’t always get along as well as we would like. What family does not? But all of the saints here realize that they serve a Lord who first served them, and all the saints here recognize that it is only a redeeming God, who has called them into an eternal relationship, who can enable them in their ordinariness and daily lives to become a saint in His name.

     And best of all, I am called to serve among them. As the priest, I often get to see the fruits which they never see, to see the hurts which they never see, to see the hope that they never see, to see the hopelessness that they never see, to see those things that people would keep hidden if they had a choice or others would not notice if they could help it. This week, our diocese will gather together under the them of “A Dedicated Life.” I can think of no other body that is so committed to living out its calling. Some may equal, but it would be difficult to find one that exceeds the saints gathered at St. Alban’s. And to think -- this is the merest shadow of the life to which He calls us in the world to come. In some ways, I cannot wait to see what His kingdom looks like, but I will settle for now with ministering with His saints here at St. Alban’s.

Christ's Peace,